Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Rob Halford's Confess: a breezy, funny, eye-opening read

Judas Priest at the Pacific Coliseum, May 28, 1984 (the Metal Conqueror tour, one tour after the one I write about); photo by bev davies - not to be reused without permission

In 1982, at age 14, I saw Judas Priest my one and only time, at the Pacific Coliseum. I had no idea that lead singer Rob Halford was gay - nor would I have been able to tell, as I was pretty naive about homosexuality. Having grown up in the suburbs, when "queer" was still an insult and homosexuality was confusing, taboo, and could possibly get you beaten up, I had little exposure to any actual gay culture. It was pretty much invisible in my environment, which made it a matter of survival to either clamp down on your queerness or, if you couldn't, stay closeted about it. There was a similar conservatism in the media. Billy Crystal in Soap aside, there wasn't much in the way of positive representation of gay culture. You could see the Village People performing on Solid Gold bedecked in their fabulous costumes, but only because most straight people had no idea that they were engaged in a pastiche of queer fashion. I certainly had no idea they were gay, nor Elton John, Freddie Mercury, etc; someone had told be David Bowie was openly bisexual, but as the only person I knew of who was openly gay, it created a mistaken impression of what "looking gay" meant - tall, thin, Gothy, pale, and maybe with some pink highlights in your hair? There was something about which ear you wore an earring in, too, that students in our high school explained to each other. If you had told me at the time that Halford was gay, it would have puzzled the hell out of me. But he's so masculine! He's dressed in leather and screaming for vengeance! Gay people don't do that! 

As a teenager, though still a virgin, I had already gone through enough formative experiences with my sexuality to know that a) I was more interested in girls than boys and that b) to the extent that I did sometimes feel feelings or think thoughts about my male friends, it was not safe and could cause problems for me (and confuse my own feelings about myself and my friends). Back then - and even moreso when I started to dress as a punk - people like me (bookish, arty, odd) would already get homophobic insults shouted at us from the local apes, who would throw bottles at us from their Camaro windows as they passed and occasionally gang up to shitkick us. It was enough that we were different, somehow a threat to their chosen form of being, for us to get beaten up - we didn't actually have to do anything. I can only recall one instance where someone called me a f***** and proceeded to punch me (after I had retorted - smartly, I thought - "asshole!" at him, but his initial verbal attack was wholly unprovoded). If it's the only time I experienced violence, it certainly wasn't the only time I encountered hostility. So if you could get beaten, abused, and called the other f-word even if you weren't gay, actually being gay was obviously out of the question. During my brief foray as a freelancer for Vancouver's Xtra West, I wrote about the few queerish experiences I did have, and about my decision to basically lock that part of myself in the closet, where it has remained pretty much unexamined and un-acted upon, the odd thought or impulse aside, for the rest of my life (I really do like girls better, anyhow). 

Knowing beyond a doubt that he was gay since a teenager, Rob Halford never had a choice, but he also experienced a lot of torment about his sexuality, which he kept secret from his fans and the press as Priest grew more and more visible. And here, in Confess, we have a remarkable document: a memoir of closeted, covert, and at times somewhat desperate sexuality, overlain with the shame not of being gay, but of having to hide and live a lie, written by someone who to all appearances is now completely comfortable with being "out" and pretty much has nothing to lose by being up-front about it. Particularly interesting is a bit of psychologizing Halford engages in about gay men who, having internalized a negative image of being gay, pursue unavailable or straight partners in a bid for some sort of societal approval - a destructive pattern that Halford does appear to have fallen victim to at one stage in his life, though by the end of the book, he's in a happy relationship and at ease with himself. 

Though some of these are pretty serious themes, it's a fun, breezy read, in fact. Rob seems to be a fairly chatty guy, and - though the book covers everything from his bust for public indecency in a men's room he was cruising to kinda shaking hands with the Queen (!) - it is all written with a fairly light tone, like you've got Rob in your living room telling you stories about his life. (There's one bathroom encounter at a truck stop that is too good to ruin in a review; let's hope the person Rob writes about gets his hands on this book, so he can run around telling his friends "that was me," should he, uh, want to disclose that). The tone of the book resembles, in fact, that of another memoir by a metal musician from the same part of the world, Tony Iommi's Iron Man, except with a bit more alcohol than cocaine, and you have to sub out Iommi's countless tales of dangerous pranks with pyrotechnics with things like encounters at the glory hole (one chapter title is, in fact, "Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory Hole," and if you're naive about how glory holes actually work - how men might signal to the person in the next stall that they are ready and willing to receive - you will be amply enlightened; since you might not want to put your gay friends on the spot and ask them for details, Rob's memoir comes in handy this way). 

Gear confiscated from the audience, May 28, 1984, also by bev davies, also not to be reused without permission

The actual role of Rob's helper in preparing the memoir, Ian Gittins, is unclear, but you come to trust that the voice is Halford's own, and it's warm, witty, and confident, covering all sorts of material besides his tormented sexuality. How did Halford come to "accidentally" quit Priest for a few years? How did the band defend themselves against charges of backmasking-causing-suicide? (I actually laughed aloud at this section of the book, read it more than once, and shared it with my wife, but again, the best bits are too good to repeat here). And while there are plenty of expected stories about encounters within the metal universe, for instance during the times Halford actually subbed in as vocalist for Sabbath, or collaborated with members of Skinny Puppy and Nine Inch Nails on one of his solo side-projects, there's also ample room for Halford's "pop tart" side, with the singer delighting in sharing anecdotes about meeting Lady Gaga and Madonna.  

Halford even talks about times he snuck in queer themes into his lyrics, unbeknownst to most metal fans (who were as naive as I was at age 14, back then). Tesco Vee of the Meatmen and I once joked publicly about such things - about Priest shooting a rock video in a sauna, for example, or having a song titled "Between the Hammer and the Anvil," which Rob doesn't go into. But turns out there is plenty of overt hinting in Priest's catalogue, from songs like "Jawbreaker," which Halford says is about the trepidation involved in going down on a really big cock, to "Raw Deal," about cruising a notorious gay bar in the States which Rob hadn't been anywhere near at the time of writing the song. I forget the exact line but he describes it as kind of coming out to Priest's audience, and having (almost) no one notice. And while Halford denies that his stage costume has anything to do with the kind of sex he likes - he's not a leather bar kinda guy, apparently, is pretty vanilla in fact - he does tell stories about wearing hankies onstage occasionally, with coded meaning for those who know (I thought that was all something invented for the movie Cruising, but no). 

Judas Priest at the Pacific Coliseum, May 28, 1984; photo by bev davies - not to be reused without permission

Confess is eye-opening, funny, and a fast, light read - the sort of book that someone who doesn't have time to read books can blow through in a week, for example. It also makes it clear just how big a relief coming out was to Halford, whose stories of bathroom encounters are often funny and sometimes kind of hot, but always overlaid with shame at having to resort to such things; it clearly suits him far better to be open, comfortable, and accepted, and you end up quite happy for him that that's where his memoir arrives. 

A recommended read! 

Sunday, September 20, 2020

In which I see my last rock concert for awhile and step into a fight in the DTES

"Oops, I Did It Again," as Richard Thompson once sang. I went to a concert. I wore my mask the whole time, except when sticking a straw under it to sip my Jolly Rancher concoction - a tasty beverage that tasted indeed like a Jolly Rancher, and a specialty of Lanalou's ($10 for a double, which was very much worth it). And to tell the truth, it all felt safe enough, with a plastic barrier preventing Dennis Mills from singing moistly onto the audience, a strict limit on the number of people allowed in, most staff wearing masks most of the time (and, as I say, at least one patron), and no mingling of the audience - but, you know, watch and see if I die, I guess. 

Will I regret writing that sentence? Maybe! I gather any indoor spaces run the risk of aerosol transmission of the virus, and that the whole fomite/ surfaces thing is sort of a "spring 2020" way of conceptualizing how the novel coronavirus spreads; anyone wanting to update their understanding of how scientists currently believe the virus can be caught should check out this excellent article... It will see me wearing my mask pretty much anytime I am in a closed space with others, I think, based mostly on this striking paragraph:

A clear example of the benefits of masks is a recent outbreak in South Korea, in which one woman at a Starbucks infected 27 other customers — whom officials assume were not wearing masks because they were eating and drinking — but none of the employees, all of whom were masked the entire time.

A friend also mentioned on FB in passing a study that showed that in fact most new cases of COVID-19 correlated to people who had eaten in restaurants since they started reopening (I don't have a link for that but it makes some sense).  

Truth is, as much as I enjoyed the show - as I would enjoy any show that Shelley Preston (of Preston & Fletcher and EddyD & the Sex Bombs) was doin' background vocals for, I think; Vancouver is lucky that she plays in so many bands! - the main reason why, I think, it was important for me to go was so that I wouldn't WANT to go to other concerts for a long while. I was Jonesin', so I took a hit of rock'n'roll, and now I'm good til maybe 2021? Let me find some wood to knock. With apologies to Dennis Mills, much as I enjoyed myself, the best thing I probably got from the gig was being reminded that I am perfectly able to live without rock concerts, and probably should. I will miss the social/ community aspects the most... 

The dodgy world outside Lanalou's helped fortify that resolve, but to understand my actions in the story that transpired, you gotta understand: I wasn't exactly sober. I had brought a government joint in a difficult-to-open, childproof government container, which I was showin' birthday boy/ Judys drummer Taylor Little outside the venue while he smoked a plain ol' cigarette, observing me as I struggled to pry the fuckin' lid off. (There is clearly a mechanism at work that makes it pop open, but though I have successfully triggered it a few times, as I break out my lone joint for special occasions, I have no idea what that mechanism IS, so I can't actually control how to re-open the package, and tend to stand there like an idiot cursing it, which was behaviour I felt I must explain to Mr. Little, who, incidentally, was celebrating a birthday last night; happy birthday, man!). Anyhow, between a couple hits on my joint and the Jolly Rancher cocktail (and a night of live music!), I felt pretty good as I left the venue to make my way to the Skytrain on Main. I even got to pet an adorable dog - an old, shaggy little fella who looked rather like a mop with eyes - who was being walked by a local. But as I arrived at my stop, the DTES asserted itself with a vengeance. Had I not smoked a bit, and had my double-cocktail, I probably would have been vastly less relaxed about the altercation I witnessed and intervened in. (Yes, folks, I stepped into a fight between two DTES residents, so if you're already thinking I'm an idiot for going to a concert in the midst of a pandemic, I'm gonna validate that theory in spades...). 

I've already posted the story on Facebook. This is how it goes: 

So I am feelin' pretty good leaving Lanalou's, waiting for a bus, when a homeless-looking, but also tough-looking, dude drags his sleeping bag, full with his belongings, around the corner, also waiting for a bus, about to light a smoke. Someone else - another local, but fitter and younger than some - flies across the street with fists flailing, bellowing, "YOU TOOK MY LIGHTER! That's MY lighter! Give it back!"

The startled alleged lighter-thief is taken aback, defensive, shouting in French-accented English - "This ees NOT your lighterrr, is MY lighterrr, I buy just now at store around ze cornerr!"

"Bullshit man! You took my lighter! It was on the ground by my bag and you picked it up! It's GREEN!"

My eyes dart at the lighter held in the other man's hand. It is indeed green, lime green, an everyday Bic lighter. The colour proves nothing, of course.

Variants on their initial altercation ensue, with occasional scuffles wherein the lanky, angry guy tries to grab the lighter. Eventually, I realize that I have a lighter with me. It is a bit nicer than a $1.99 Bic, but I have no great attachment to it. Maybe I could solve this problem?

"Dude!" I say at the tough guy. "Here, take MY lighter, it ain't worth the fight!"

I reach out my hand and he briefly glances over and takes my lighter... But continues to yell at the other guy, and I start to realize, holy shit, I just gave away my lighter for NOTHING. The fight continues for several minutes thereafter (the bus is still on the way) and finally I can't help it, and assert myself (idiotically) again into the fray: "Just trade lighters," I say.

They both pause for a second and CLEARLY consider it, going so far as to briefly extend their hands, then realize that any arrangement of passing lighters might involve one of them running off with both of them. Too late, I add, "Or just give them both to me and I will pass them to you," but it is too late:



So it goes. Felt like I was in a Chris Walter novel for a sec. They were still fighting when the bus arrived, both of them with a lighter, and me with none.

There was actually a bit more to it than that, which I left off FB for brevity - the quarrel continued onto the bus, in fact, with the first guy piling his sleeping bag knapsack onto the bus with his "buddy" in pursuit, yelling through the open door variants on "you took my fuckin' lighter! I'm gonna GET you!" for a few minutes (my former lighter - an eight dollar fancy one that I bought when I bought the joint, to smoke before the last concert I'd gone to, was still clutched in his hand, while they fought over a $2 Bic). Once the bus pulled away, I even had a brief chat with the victim/ lighter thief "That guy crazy, you even give him you lighterrr," he acknowledged at one point. I agreed - "clearly he has some anger issues," and broke out that strangely-officious phrase, "I'm sorry that happened to you" (and made sure, when we arrived at the Skytrain station, that we got on different cars). 

On FB, after I posted it, Chris Walter agreed: it was a "very Chris Walter-esque" moment. 

Anyhow, there. I survived a venture into the DTES, and maybe survived having been indoors with strangers, and satiated my FOMO, which really, at this point, should be smaller than, say, my fear of dying on a ventilator in a crowded and lonely hospital ward. I think I'm gonna quit writing about live music for awhile, so as not to encourage any false sense of security out there, and I think (I think) I am gonna stop going to shows altogether, folks at least for the rest of the year. Playing Russian roulette with live music seems unwise. Those of you who wish to support the scene can still do so, maybe, by donating to this GoFundMe for this friend of the Judys, for whom - I neglected to mention in my interview with Dennis, below - the evening was a benefit. She was in a pretty awful car accident and could use the support; I coughed up (not literally; no coughing was involved) fifty bucks, in addition to writing the piece below and payin' to get into the show, so I've done my bit. 

Now I just need to correct the spelling of Pete Fiend (he's only Feend on FB) and put that link into the interview itself, then I can go back to bed!

Thursday, September 17, 2020

A Dennis Mills interview: of AKA, Rhythm Mission, the Jazzmanian Devils, Les Goodman, and THE JUDYS, PLAYING THIS WEEKEND!

Okay, so: as far as wildfire smoke goes, we have nearly-breathable air again (for now). We have children in the school playgrounds, shrieking and laughing almost like there is no pandemic afoot (tho' clearly there is, because I'm still working from home and think no more of wearing a mask to go shopping than I do of wearing socks or underwear). But will the Judys CD release scheduled for Saturday at Lanalou's actually take place...? And then there's the eternal question, "Is it safe?" 

AKA, September 1980 at the Arcadian Hall, by Gord McCaw; not to be reused without permission

I will let people weigh their options, here, but one thing is clear: Dennis Mills deserves better! The new Judys EP is pretty durn great, and Mills has had a very long and interesting career on the Vancouver scene, which stretches nearly back to the dawn of the scene (he identifies as being in the "second wave," but 1980 is still early enough that punk was whatever you decided it would be). His debut in Vancouver (and anywhere) was singing and playing sax for AKA, alongside future notables like guitarist/ critic Alex Varty and keyboardist/ slide guitarist Andy Graffiti (the AKA rhythm section of Warren Hunter and Warren Ash were also in Rhythm Mission, Mill's next band, but I don't know their full discography, otherwise). I've felt kinda guilty about not having interviewed Mills about anything, ever, given his contributions to the Vancouver scene. It seems kind of necessary to start at the beginning...

Red Therapy is kind of a crazy EP, packing in several flavours of No Wave, from the abrasive DNA-style gut-punches to spidery, playful aggro-jazz. Like the U-J3RK5, it doesn't make much sense for Vancouver 1980 - seems more like New York 1978 - but holds up plenty well now. AKA started for Mills when he responded to an add from Alex Varty on a message board at Quintessence Records ("Many bands formed in those days from that message board," he tells me by email).  

AKA, September 1980 at the Arcadian Hall, by Gord McCaw; not to be reused without permission

To say no more, an interview follows, which I'll lay out Q&A style. Apologies to all for obvious questions I have missed. Maybe see you Saturday at Lanalou's...?

AM: What were you doing musically before getting involved with AKA? Can you sketch out the early history for us...?

DM: I had jammed previously with Reed Eurchuk , which is recounted on my blog as The Puffy Coat. Reed soon after formed a band called Exxotone with Randy Pandora ( ex-Generators), and the two Warrens - Warren Hunter and Warren Ash. The Exxotone was originally called The Detectives. When the two Warrens were “let go”, they joined Alex and I as The Rejectives (inside joke). There was also a female singer in the first lineup of AKA, Angela Kaya. I still have a button with her face on it, and last saw her at Michael Wonderful’s celebration of life. Classical pianist Tommy Wong joined after that. Our first show was at Pumps Gallery as part of an Erotic Art show. On the way to the show, we were still deciding what our name would be. That first gig we were called The Not. Later it changed to AKA, (also known as). AKA also means Red in Japan, so that is why our first and only record was called Red Therapy

Before my sojourn into Vancouver and music, I had guested once with some high school friends called Estipod in Richmond, where I went to high school. We did a version of "Blank Generation" with Estipod, and it is rumored that there is a super 8 somewhere. Before all that, I had imagined myself an actor, until I was forced to sit in a lighting booth on a technical rehearsal while Patti Smith first played the Commodore. It was missing that show that made me want to form a band. I decided then and there that acting was not my gig. I needed to live life before I could play someone else's life. I was drawn to the punk aesthetic of DYI, where I could be actor, performer, writer and director all in one. The sugar water of the early punk scene drew my "human fly" ego to it, and it has never let go.

AKA by bev davies, Dec. 1980 at Gary Taylor's Rock Room, not to be reused without permission

What were you listening to? James Chance, DNA, that sorta thing, or…? AKA was a bit “out there” for 1980; were you also pretty much into aggressive avant garde, or…?

Yes, I love the No New York record, but earlier influences were Lou Reed, Patti Smith, Richard Hell, Pere Ubu, Television, and Talking Heads. AKA was very active for about 3 years. We opened up for Ultravox and for Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band. We also did a short tour with Doug and the Slugs.

I prefer the more playful/ tuneful stuff on
Red Therapy, like “634 Dog.” Did you write the lyrics? 

I wrote all the lyrics. Warren Ash wrote some lyrics for a Rhythm Mission song, which I reconstructed a bit with the cut-up method. Lyrics are my thing, above all else.

I have no idea what "634 Dog" is about... can you enlighten me?

Most of my lyrics and poetry just come to my blessed pointed head. Lots of stream of consciousness, and wordplay.When I was in AKA, I was 20-23, I was also experimenting with the cut-up method (Burroughs, Gysin).

"634 Dog" – the title came partially from the song "634-5789" - the Wilson Pickett song. The "dog" part is referenced in the song.

The basic song structure came from Warren Hunter. His songs on guitar with AKA are very different from the ones that Alex played on - playful and tuneful as you note" "634" "Dog," "Fear," "Ragged Andys,"

Alex on guitar songs were more angular, short, choppy, jazzy: "God," "City Drugs," "Mental Timebombs," Warren’s playing was very different.

What was working with Alex Varty like? I've only had good experiences with him as a fellow writer...

Alex is on the most knowledgeable and creative people in our little city. I always thought of him as my Bob Quine! He didn’t check all the boxes for punk or new wave fashion, but we wrote some cool, strange music, which was far more interesting work that most of the bands that got all the press.

There was a bit of a divide at one point with the CITR power pop fans, hardcore, and the weird stuff we did. But we played with everybody, DOA, Subhumans ( my favorite), The Rabid, etc. When we released our EP, we later were at CITR, and found the play copy with giant letters written all over the cover, ALEX VARTY PLAYS WITH THESE GUYS, DON’T PLAY THIS!!! We had a laugh, but some people didn’t understand that Alex was a critic, who made some kind of a living from writing. He is one the best, and has mellowed over the years.. AKA had a reunion show in 2015. We had not played in well over 30 years, and in some cases, hadn’t really spoken much. It was so much fun, and interesting to play the weird songs you wrote when you were in your early 20’s, when you were now in your late 50’s. 

Were you with AKA when they opened for Captain Beefheart? Any Beefheart stories? 

Captain Beefheart by bev davies, Commodore, January 1981, not to be reused without permission

Yes, AKA broke up about a month before the Beefheart show, and we then played it. Don Van Vliet was a shaman. He had an incredible memory. I was backstage at the Commodore after we opened, and came by the dressing room ( much different that the ones now). He would be making these oblique statements, and looked at me and said something about Lower and Higher Mathematics. He saw this bouncer and signaled to him. “Century Plaza, 1973 or something like that.” Yeah the guy says. Beefheart remembered a bouncer from about 8 years previous. The next night, Melodic Energy Commission got to the open ( he played two nights) and I got hang out with him backstage. He was in a more contemplative mood that night. He was drawing with felt pens, and made a joke about the fumes. His art looked like a cat but as if the cat was made of glass, and the glass had just shattered. His wife Jan was very carefully guarding him, and you got the sense that she shepherded him through all this music life. 

Captain Beefheart by bev davies, Commodore, January 1981, not to be reused without permission

What was the process of leaving AKA and getting into Rhythm Mission? Did you do anything between, or did the bands overlap, or…?

AKA broke up after a gig in DTES at the Lotus where AKA played with The Modernettes. I did mushrooms that night, and gave out Japanese oranges to the crowd. Alex and I had lived in a communal house, but like sometimes happens, it was too intense. I finished the gig and said it was the end. But we did the Beefheart one after. AKA actually kept going for a few more months with Colin Griffiths replacing Alex. Another interesting anecdote from AKA was the Red Therapy record. AKA at that point was Alex, me, the two Warrens and Andy Graffiti on keyboards and slide guitar. We had the choice of paying for the master tape ( about $400) or renting it. We rented it. The only master is the remaining copies of the EP!

We met Scott Harding at an AKA show at the Laundromat ( soon to be Richards on Richards), and previously The David YH Lui Theatre, where I worked as an usher. He was underage, but we got him into the Commodore for Beefheart. Later we jammed with him and Lee Kelsey (who had been in the Payolas), the two Warrens, and Andy joined later for Rhythm Mission too. We were active from fall of 1981 to 1984 when we broke up briefly. We reformed about a year after, but by then, Scott, Lee and I started Jazzmanian Devils (1983).

Did you like hardcore? It seems like the kind of music AKA was making in 1980 wouldn't have happened if the "orthodoxies" of hardcore had set in, and it seems like Rhythm Mission and Jazzmanian Devils are both kinda reactions against hardcore...?

Not generally a fan of hardcore. That said, I loved the Minutemen, Subs, and Death Sentence, although that was much later.

Rhythm Mission had lots of funk influences and world beat too. Jazzmanian Devils were definitely an idea to take it back. Buddy Selfish and others were bringing back rockabilly, so we went back a bit further to the real father of rock n roll, Louis Jordan.

Was the Mo-Da-Mu label/ scene a thing in Vancouver when Rhythm Mission started? (It looks like the first Animal Slaves EP was released a couple of years before 
Wild Mood Swings, but I don’t know!). How much of a shared vision or politic did the Mo-Da-Mu bands have? Did bands co-ordinate their sound in any way, so that recordings had a recognizable brand to them? (Because I can hear similarities between Wild Mood Swings and Dog Eat Dog, say).

I was living in a housing co-op and a member of East End Food Co-op, later worked at Uprising Breads – a workers coop. I figured a music co-op to put on gigs and put out records was a good idea. I gathered together the folks who started it, but it was my concept. We were all friends and rivals, a healthy competition, and a communal sense of co-operation. Lots of strong egos though. 54-40 started out opening for AKA, we worked with them on Mo-Da-Mu, Tin Twist, Animal Slaves, Work Party. I’m probably forgetting someone important. 

Who did the cover art for Wild Mood Swings? It's pretty crazy!

Jan Wade. She is very cool and a close friend.

Did you interact much with Elizabeth Fischer? Any memorable moments? I kind of loved her way of doing things but gather she was also kinda cranky…

I wrote about Elizabeth on my blog Condensed Milt. We worked together for many years. She went out with Ross from Animal Slaves, and he played with me in Rhythm Mission and Jazzmanian Devils. We had many disagreements over the years, as she wasn’t the easiest person. But she was always an incredible artist (visual) and musically. She even sang a few songs with Jazzmanian Devils!

Also interested in hearing Scott Harding stories…! Did you follow his hip hop stuff? Are you still in touch? I actually forget if any bands you were in participated in that Commodore benefit…?

Yes I helped push the rock that was Hardstock up the hill, with help from about 1000 people. We also did Holy Hardstock at Christ Church Cathedral. I had curated both shows, which caused a bit a fuss with Elizabeth, as she wanted to play at the Commodore, while I wanted her to play Holy Hardstock. She yelled at me and basically told me to fuck off. Again. Oh well, I yelled back. I had this vision of her music in the big cathedral. It would have been beautiful. So many stories there.

I am curious about a series of concerts that Rhythm Mission was involved in: Shindig, back in December 1984. I gather that Red Herring won against the objections of some of the audience – I have heard many people say that the real popular favourites were Rhythm Mission. Any memories of the Shindig event? Did you dig Red Herring? Did you feel like you should have won? (I gather Stephen Nikleva would later sit in with the Jazzmanian Devils, so it sounds like there was no bad blood…).

All the CITR kids were upset that Rhythm Mission applied for Shindig because ….get ready…we were too professional! Anyway it was a lot of fun, and we won a lot, but Red Herring got the nod that night. Red Herring was and is a great band. Great musicians and people. Stephen Nikleva just gave AKA a shout out on YouTube.

Did the Jazzmanian Devils never record? I don’t see any collectibles for sale on Discogs… are you a live band only?

Jazzmanian Devils recorded 2 cassettes ( Let’s Drink and Happy Hour) and a CD called That’s the Groovy Thing. There is a live session at the CBC that Jacek was going to put out on vinyl, although I haven’t heard from him for awhile.  

Jazzmanian Devils by Gord McCaw, not to be reused without permission

Never having been to a Les Goodman After Dark event, I was shamefully confused by you being Les Goodman throughout the last Bowie Ball. Is Les Goodman just a stage name you use for certain projects, or is he anything else? Where did the name come from? (I honestly thought Les Goodman and you were two different people!).

Les Goodman was my name in the Jazzmanian Devils. We were all Goodman brothers. Many people in Vancouver were given Goodman names. Manny Goodman gave me the name Les Goodman, because I was the Last Goodman in town ( see movie, songs, etc) Les Goodman is slippery character. A couple years back some film people were trying to get me to revive it for Much Music. We got as far as contracts, but it didn’t seem right. The concept of Les Goodman After Dark was imitation of a talk show, using the talk show format at a form of entertainment, but in a live context only. The Jazzmanian Devils were the House Band, and Manny and Herschel Goodman were my sidekicks. The joke was we were all about TV, but not on TV. We started that in the late 80’s, early 90’s. I have a collection of them on disc. Some were very funny, and others were just alcoholic. We had a famous show where we invited Art Bergmann to come and do "Bound for Vegas" as a lounge song. He was wasted, and we conducted most of the interview under the table. Very funny. In recent years, we revived it at Lanalous. First I did it with Big Top, then with the new After Dark Band, with Taylor, Scott, Bob Petterson, and Gord Rempel and Ron Kenji. We had a tradition of doing Canada day for three years, or maybe it was two. 

Dennis Mills as Les Goodman, MC'ing the 2020 Bowie Ball with Tony Lee, by Bob Hanham; not to be reused without permission

When did the Judys actually start? Is it the same lineup still…?

The first Judys was a fuck band with me, Dano (keyboards and slide guitar in the Judys) , Keith Porteous, Warren Hunter and a drummer no one remembers. We used to practice with AKA at the Female Hands house in Burnaby, so the drummer was either the guy from Female Hands, or Bobby Herron from the b-sides. I don’t recall a single song that we played, and we only played once at the Railway.

The Judys started with Taylor Little telling me he had always wanted to be in a band with me. He was playing with Dano, and Pete worked with him. I came over to a rehearsal in fall 2014. We then invited Scott Fletcher to bring his righteous riffs, and The Judys were born. One night at Pandoras, they put the bands names up on the white board. I came in and Dano had put The Judys up there. So we became The Judys. Again. We played our first show at Lanalous with all covers on Boxing Day 2014. Our plan was to pick songs we loved from our youth, and Judify them. So we picked "Walk on The Water," and "Revolution Blues," "Radar Love," "So Tired." 

Then once we had created our ‘sound”, we started to write in the Judys style. Our first song was either "Judy’s Got a Big Mouth" or "Freedom 85."   I forget which came first.

Dennis Mills fronting the Judys by Bob Hanham. Not to be reused without permission

Unless I’ve missed something, and I probably have, the Judys are the most straight-up rock band you’ve played in – where did the impetus to do something kinda more straightforward come from?

I have always wanted to play in a band like The Judys. Taylor encouraged me to adapt my voice. He claims he taught me how to sing. I will agree he taught me how to sing better. I have always loved Taylor since he played in The Shades with Chris Arnett (of the Furies), Reed Eurchuck, and Mike Raycevik. They were NY sounding, which has always been my favorite. My first experience on-stage was screaming on "Psychotic Reaction" with the Shades at the Buddha. I then fell backwards into the crowd and they caught me.

Where did the name come from? Is there a particular Judy that inspired you?

Original Judys were of course inspired by Judy Kemeny (TinTwist), Judy from Pink Section, and Judy (Ebra) from Tunnel Canary. And of course Judy Garland. Wizard of Oz is my favourite movie.

Did you spend time in New York at any point? “Welcome to New York” seems more inspired by Lou Reed than Richard Hell…

The lyrics to that song started in 2007, on a trip to NY to visit Scott Harding, where I had a heart attack a day later in Atlanta. The heart attack started in NY, then there was the plane ride and then in Atlanta, the hospital.

There is some truth to the song. Especially the part of "Forgot all the Stupid Words."    New York in the song represents that drug state where “you wont be staying here too long”. We liked the idea of 
"another old fashioned drug song”, taking the piss out of old fashioned love song by Three Dog Night. Musically, a very Exile just off Main Street, where we rehearsed for awhile.

I loved both Lou and Richard Hell, so many great memories of both of them.

Did you ever get to meet them, or have any other encounters with your musical heroes?

Warren Hunter and I went to Seattle and saw Richard Hell. This was around the time of his second record. It wasn’t really the Voidoids, and he wasn’t very good.

I saw Lou Reed in 1976. He was doing the Rock 'n Roll Heart tour with the wall of TV sets. During the show, a guy sitting next to us got up to get a drink. His wallet dropped and I noticed, and gave to his girlfriend.

He came back and thanked me with a huge chunk of hash. I thought, wow, this will last a year! He then came back again, and asked if I had eaten it. I said no, I didn’t know you could eat it.

"Yes, just eat it."  

And I did. Midway between driving my buddies back to Richmond in my mother’s car, the hash kicked in. HARD. By the time we went to Tom’s Pizza ( long gone), the pizza was vibrating and I was hallucinating. Somehow, I managed to drive them all home, and went to bed, getting up in morning for my first day at work in teller training for the Royal Bank. 

Ha! On that topic, I can't make out all the lyrics for The Whole World’s on Drugs.” Can you share’m? 

Baby’s got a bucket and she’s putting on some pudge.
She’s got a brand new drug, calls it Tattoo Fudge. 
 You don’t have to go to circus to find yourself a clown
Just put on the tv, see what’s going down. 

The Whole World’s on Drugs. 

You can roll it you can lick you can find it on the ground. 
Some people falling in love some people falling down. 
Some people living on the street, man they’re living on the edge. 
 Some people holding hands when they jump off the ledge. 

The Whole World’s on Drugs

Sugar makes the world go round. 

(Tell it to me Sugar. Sell it to me sugar. )

Dennis Mills fronting the Judys by Bob Hanham. Not to be reused without permission

I’m listening to “Something in the Air” and really enjoying the dark, heavy vibe of it. Who wrote the music? Who wrote the lyrics? How were they married together? Between wildfires and COVID it seems like it could have a whole other timely topical verse…

All songs by The Judys. I write the words. We started that song in 2017 after the first two came out. The Very Best of The Judys, and The Very Rest of The Judys. [Not on the bandcamp, but it includes some of the covers mentioned elsewhere, like "Radar Love."]

So we all write them. Taylor is a very compositional drummer. He is a great arranger. Scott provides the killer riffs, Pete the monster bass, and Dano is the special sauce that really makes it Judified. Shelley [Preston, of Preston and Fletcher, whose Fletcher is the Scott, above] has become a part of the band too in the last couple years. Her work on this new record is so good. Check out the pads she does on "Best Before" and [the Tom Waits cover] "Goin Out West."

Were the lyrics of “Another Goddamn Man” written by a man? 

Yes. Guilty as charged. Did you catch my Jesus Christ Superstar reference? [nope - it's been awhile].

Dennis Mills fronting the Judys by Bob Hanham. Not to be reused without permission

What are the odds that the Judys concert is going to go ahead under the current COVID restrictions? Anything you want to say about it? The last time I saw the Judys at Lanalou’s, there were female backup singers, including Cass King… not sure if Shelley Preston was there…? Anything else I’m missing?

At this time, it is going on. We will take all precautions. Our last gig was December, so a long time away. Who knows when or if the next one will be. We love Cass, but she was very busy with her own thing. Cass and Shelley and Taylor’s daughter Alex were the Big Mouths on the first records. But Shelley is in the band now. She’s grown up to be a real Judy.

I could go for hours. But I’m sure you have lots. If you have any more questions, feel free to ask.


IMPORTANT ADDENDUM: the show - which I did end up going to! - was actually a benefit for a friend of the Judys who was horribly injured in a car accident, who has a GoFundMe afoot. Dennis gifted me some swag as a result of the above, some of which was quite collectable, so I donated (at his suggestion) fifty bucks to the cause, and encourage anyone else who can do so to do the same. 

Saturday, September 12, 2020

The Burnt Orange Heresy and the nostalgia it inspires...

In the space of three days, I have, by chance, seen two films with Elizabeth Debicki, an Australian actress that you may have also seen in Widows, The Guardians of the Galaxy sequel, or in Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby. She was also in a recent adaptation of Macbeth that I quite liked (the one with Michael Fassbender). The first film I saw her in, two days ago, was a big-budget theatrical blockbuster, Tenet, which has been so well-written about in the New Yorker that no further words of mine seem necessary, save that I did enjoy Ludwig G√∂ransson's score for the film, a sort of high-energy Tangerine-Dreamy synth-type thingy that sounded really good being played LOUD at Landmark, who, by the way, apparently have dropped that annoying practice I mentioned of dropping sound when the credits roll. The film itself, alas, was not as impressive; it had had trailers that made me believe I might enjoy a Christopher Nolan film again for a change - haven't really liked anything since Memento - but it was not to be. As Adam Nayman of Cinema Scope, observed of Dunkirk"That Nolan and his collaborators... have worked to create something intricate and unique is undeniable. What’s less certain... is whether their structural intervention signifies much beyond its own complexity. The film is impressive, immense, immersive, yes — but is it anything else?" I would say the answer is either no, or perhaps, if there is indeed something to Tenet that I missed, it is not worth the effort of extracting it. (It also doesn't do much with John David Washington, who has none of the effortlessly radiant charm he brought to Ballers). 

The second Elizabeth Debicki film I saw, which I finished on home video just tonight, was an independent/ arthouse film, The Burnt Orange Heresy, which played in Vancouver for, I believe, less than a week - longer than  Jay Baruchel's Random Acts of Violence, which I still haven't seen, and which seemed to get pulled from distribution halfway through its first week; which is still better, say, than Jeff Barnaby's Blood Quantum, which didn't get a theatrical roll-out here at all. Blame it all on COVID, of course. Erika and I had meant to see The Burnt Orange Heresy theatrically, but the night we actually went to Landmark with intent to see it, we discovered that they had changed the showtime from the previous day, when we'd hatched the plan, and - since this was still in the early phases of the reopening, when most screens were filled with things like Jaws and Raiders of the Lost Ark,  there weren't dozens of showtimes to choose from; we would have had to have waited for a couple hours to catch the next screening, so elected to go home instead. Rather a sad, lame rollout for such a good film; it ended up appearing on DVD (not even blu) at Walmart a few weeks later, so I grabbed it, and must say I enjoyed it so much vastly more than I enjoyed Tenet. Even Debicki was better: there is a moment in The Burnt Orange Heresy where she simply pauses and contemplates the landscape, which hints at a richer and more interesting inner life than you will find in the whole of Tenet. She seems, in The Burnt Orange Heresy, like a real person, with thoughts, feelings, ideas, a history - although the film keeps you guessing as to what that might be, and leaves a great deal unstated. She's not exactly the main character of the film, but she's sort of (along, maybe, with Donald Sutherland, as a reclusive artist) the moral center of the film. It's not the sort of movie where the character who is the moral center is likely to fare well, alas, and almost else in the film is some variety of shark - some, like art critic/ lecturer/ freelancer Claes Bang, in the lead role, being better disguised than others. (Mick Jagger's character, meanwhile, might as well be a lizard person). 

There are a lot of reasons why I was predisposed to like The Burnt Orange Heresy. For one, I'm a fan of Patricia Highsmith's character of Tom Ripley, who, in the later novels about him, is deeply involved in art forgery (and murder and upscale European living), and while the novel this film is based on is not by Highsmith, it might well be; the story is very Highsmithian, and forgery and upscale European high life are definitely themes. As a happy fact, though, I am also a fan of the work of the novelist Charles Willeford, who did write the book that this is based on (now in print again, thanks to the film), though I have no way to reconcile the texts I have encountered by him - which also include the novel Pick Up, a fascinating, bleak, hardboiled crime  novel with a helluva twist ending, and two film adaptations of his work, Miami Blues and Cockfighter - with what I have seen here; they all seem very different. Though the film has some very clever and surprising moments, and a story that actually amounts to something, mostly what I found myself liking here was the nostalgia I feel for this KIND of movie, the sophisticated-and-pretty-thriller-aimed-at-an-educated-but-not-prudish-audience. They used to fill the screens at venues like the Royal Centre or command the space dedicated to one-to-three videos on the new arrivals wall of stores like Blockbuster or Rogers Video: smart, small-scale, but very enjoyable "mainstream arthouse" movies like The Comfort of Strangers or Pascali's Island or White Mischief or even the film Ripley's Game (which came out a bit after the Royal Centre years). None of these are necessarily great films (tho' happy to note that Criterion is putting out The Comfort of Strangers soon), but they were a sort of healthy cinematic staple food, at one point, which didn't leave you feeling like the filmmaker has contempt for you or took you for a sucker or a lowbrow, which is what you kinda get from the works of Christopher Nolan, Michael Bay, or any of the Marvel Comics Universe (or DC, for that matter) films... I guess there IS a way to find film fare like this on Netflix, and who knows, maybe that's where The Burnt Orange Heresy will eventually wind up, but the film left me feeling satisfied in a way I haven't for awhile, watching most Netflix fare.

Anyhow, I liked The Burnt Orange Heresy quite a bit. Really all I had to say...